Love Saves The Day pt 3

I read the rather excellent book Love Saves The Day: A History Of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence last year. Scattered throughout it are representative playlists of the music particular DJs would have played at a specific club in a specific year. While I was reading it, I bored people with snippets of information about the DJs and clubs and Youtube videos of some of the musical gems. I thought I’d collect these together and expand the text a little in order to bore a wider audience.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3 : Part 4 : Part 5

In part 3, we find ourselves in the mid 1970s as the pioneering clubs are starting to be replaced by a new wave of bigger and more mainstream venues.

Flamingo was opened in Manhattan in 1974 by Michael Fesco, who had been running successful venues on Fire Island for the last few summers. Flamingo was very white and very gay – unlike the mixed (in both senses) clubs that had pioneered disco in Manhattan. The theatrical presentation and carefully-controlled exclusivity helped keep Flamingo at the forefront the Manhattan gay scene for the rest of the decade. The opening night DJ was Armando Galvez and this was in his record crate at the time. But honestly, I was just looking for an excuse to play some Disco-Tex And The Sex-O-Lettes.

12 West was the hottest new disco of 1975 and yet another club which paid homage to The Loft. But where David Mancuso’s club The Loft avoided labels (“The Loft wasn’t gay. The Loft wasn’t anything.- David DePino”), 12 West definitely catered to a gay crowd and especially the S&M subculture. Resident DJ Tom Savarese would be voted both New York and National DJ of the year in the next couple of years. Betty Wright’s “Where Is The Love” was one of the hottest songs in this period, becoming a mainstream hit in the UK and winning a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

For various reasons, Walter Gibbons was never an acclaimed DJ but he was highly respected by the other DJs. He would take two copies of a track with a great drum break and seamlessly mix between them to extend the break up to five or ten minutes. Hip hop DJs such as Kool Herc were starting to do the same thing in the Bronx, but John Jellybean Benitez, who saw them both at work, thought Walter was far superior. Gibbons was also a great remixer and has the honour of creating the first track to be commercially released on 12″, “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure on Salsoul records. Previous 12″ singles had been DJ promo only.

Tom Savarese was replaced as resident at 12 West by Boston DJ Jimmy Stuard, who was great friends with top remixer Tom Moulton. So when Moulton produced a 19 minute “work in progress” acetate remix of Disco Inferno, it was to Stuard, and only Stuard, that he gave it to play. Moulton knew it was too long to release so he cut it down to under 11 minutes. That version became a club staple, was on The Trammps album and found its way in full onto the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The 19 minute version is still unreleased.

Sadly, Jimmy Stuard was in the habit of using the Everard Baths as a cheap place to sleep – DJ sleeping hours matching nicely the down time at a gay bathhouse – and died in the 1977 fire there which killed nine men in total.

[You can listen to the music from all the Love Saves The Day posts on this Youtube playlist.]

Frank Zappa in Eastern Europe, 1991

Frank Zappa

Featured image: Zappa in 1971 by Heinrich Klaffs

It’s just been announced that Alex Winter (of Bill & Ted notoriety) has finished his documentary Zappa, which was made with full access to the contents of the Zappa family vault.

Alex Winter’s Frank Zappa Doc ‘Zappa’ Premieres at South by Southwest

The premiere is at SxSW in March so I don’t know what’s in the film, but I’m hoping it will cover at least some of his summer sojourn in Eastern Europe in 1991. Within the space of a week, Frank attended celebrations of the withdrawal of the Soviet Army in two capital cities – Prague in Czechoslovakia, and Budapest in Hungary – and played with local bands at events in both cities. These turned out to be his last public musical performances.

The invitations didn’t come out of the blue. Zappa’s music was massively inspirational to the artistic underground in Czechoslovakia and that had led to a visit the previous year when he met the new President Vaclav Havel and was made a consultant to the government in matters of trade, tourism and cultural exchange. This was a serious enough appointment that he registered with the US government as an agent of a foreign power (you can imagine the smile on his face when he filled in that form). The Americans soon pressured the Czechs into dropping him – the wife of US Secretary Of State James Baker was one of the founders of the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Council) with whom Zappa had had a number of run ins during the Obscenity Wars of the 1980s – but he was still held in high regard in Prague.

Frank Zappa and Vaclav Havel
Frank Zappa and Vaclav Havel

He was invited to attend the presidential election in summer 1990 but declined. He did however accept an invitation to the celebrations marking the withdrawal of the Soviet Army, which had been in Czechoslovakia ‘temporarily’ for 23 years. The withdrawal had been delicately negotiated in large part by Michael Kocab, a musician and composer who was an acquaintance of Frank and was now also a member of the Czechoslovak government. Zappa then went on to similar celebrations in Budapest, having been invited by the city’s Mayor Gábor Demszky with whom he’d had lunch in Los Angeles back in April. Frank was apparently particularly amused that Gabor was going to see Ronald Reagan next.

The problem about playing guitar at these events, as was being expected of him, was that Zappa’s last tour had been in 1988 and had ended prematurely and acrimoniously (why is a tangent too far for this post, but it’s explained in Frank’s own words here). As a result, as he told the Budapest audience:

“At the end of the tour, I put my guitar in its case and I haven’t seen it since then”.

He’d been working on composition (including his last major work Civilization Phaze III, and the orchestral pieces that were released as The Yellow Shark a month before he died in 1993) and generally avoiding musicians, who he saw as an expensive complication to the process of making music. He told an interviewer just before he left for Europe:

[…] they want me to bring my guitar over and play. And I haven’t touched it for years. I don’t have any calluses! I don’t know what to do with that fucking thing. And if I don’t take it along with me I know a lot of people will be disappointed, but I know if I plug it in they’re going to be even more disappointed, [laughs] ’cause I can’t play anymore.

The celebration in Prague was on 24th June 1991 and included a concert by Pražský Výběr in the Sports Hall in Prague. Pražský Výběr had also been a symbol of resistance to the Communist authorities having been banned and, in some individual cases, imprisoned during the 1980s. They were led by Michael Kocab, moonlighting from his government minister job, and featured Michal Pavlicek on lead guitar. I’m not sure if Frank had heard any of the band’s music before but he was familiar with Kocab’s solo compositions such as the ballet score Odysseus. Anyway he tied back his hair, slowly pushed their jazz reggae vibe in the right direction and played some pretty good guitar on that well-known track, “Improvisation in A Major”. The back and forth guitar with Michal Pavlicek is particularly enjoyable.

Despite the title of the Youtube clip, Prague wasn’t his last performance. That came 6 days later on 30th June at the Búcsú (Farewell) Fesztivál in Tabán, a district of Buda which had a park often used for large events.

This time he played with a band containing some of Hungary’s leading jazz musicians – Gyula Babos on guitar, János Egri on bass, Béla “Szakcsi” Lakatos on keyboards, and Imre Kőszegi on drums – referred to as the Gypsy Friends. Jazz had always been a much more acceptable form of expression in the Eastern European Communist countries than rock music. Being a gypsy was, however, not as acceptable. The Roma had been treated as a source of unskilled labour by the Communist regime in Hungary and when the industries that needed that labour collapsed along with Communism, they found themselves out of work and subject to the old prejudices. Was Frank making a statement by giving the band that name? Mayor Demszky Gábor, now acting as translator, certainly seems momentarily surprised, as if he’s not sure what the rules are any more.

While you can argue endlessly (and people have) about whether Zappa played jazz, it seems fair to say he was ambivalent about it – that same month he’d released an album of instrumentals compiled from the 1988 tour recordings called Make A Jazz Noise Here. But he seems to genuinely enjoy playing with the musicians, who he’d only met the day before and had had a one song rehearsal with that morning. He gives them lots of space to do their thing and then jumps in when he sees fit. Or more precisely, kneels down since he plays the last few solos squatting. I wonder if he was having trouble hearing his guitar and wanted to get nearer the speaker cabinet?

The day after the Budapest concert, the leaders of the Warsaw Pact member countries met in Prague to complete the dissolution of the organization by shutting down its Political Consultative Committee. The Cold War was effectively over.

What only his family knew at the time was that Frank Zappa was dying, having been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer the previous year. He made it to the Frankfurt Festival in September 1992 to conduct the Ensemble Modern on some of the pieces which became The Yellow Shark, but was too ill to even attend the remaining concerts in Berlin and Austria. He died on December 5th 1993 and was buried the following day in an unmarked grave.

Budapest thus became his final public performance as a musician.

Useful sources:
wiki.killuglyradio.com – A fascinating interview given as Frank was about to leave for Europe
books.google.co.ukFrank Zappa by Barry Miles, especially chapter 20

Love Saves The Day pt 2

[You can listen to the music from all the Love Saves The Day posts on this Youtube playlist.]

I read the rather excellent book Love Saves The Day: A History Of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence last year. Scattered throughout it are representative playlists of the music particular DJs would have played at a specific club in a specific year. While I was reading it, I bored people with snippets of information about the DJs and clubs and Youtube videos of some of the musical gems. I thought I’d collect these together and expand the text a little in order to bore a wider audience.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3 : Part 4 : Part 5

The Loft is so central to this story that the whole book is named after the first of the invite-only parties David Mancuso held at his Broadway home.

Mancuso had been holding Leary-inspired (Timothy rather than Denis) gatherings for friends at his loft since the mid sixties. These had eventually turned into dance parties and he accumulated enough audio gear to fill the formerly industrial space with quality sound. After a break in 1969 to, in his own words, “go on a monk trip”, Mancuso resumed the dance parties. The first attempts were typical open rent parties – they were called Coalition and run with a couple of collaborators including a DJ – but they didn’t really work out.

So in early 1970 Mancuso took back control, including of the music, and sent out invites for a private party called Loves Save the Day – the name was inspired by proximity to Valentines Day and his former fondness for psychedelics. The parties had names but the venue didn’t, it was just Mancuso’s home. Eventually people started calling it The Loft and the name stuck.

The 1972 solo track Girl You Need A Change Of Mind from The Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks was a favourite of David Mancuso at The Loft and was picked up by a lot of other DJs as a result.

By the end of 1970, the Loft parties were at capacity and stayed that way for years. The door charge was only two dollars at first and there was no alcohol, or indeed anything else, for sale inside. But there was free food – organic and fresh, in line with Mancuso’s now clean living habits. And there was simple but effective decor including balloons – lots of balloons – streamers and powerful floodlights. The Loft was recreated to great effect in epsiode 5 of David ‘The Wire’ Simon’s recent series The Deuce – the DJ was the spitting image of David Mancuso although the name was never mentioned.

The Loft was David Mancuso’s home so the only event of the week was the Saturday night invite-only party. During the early part of most week, he would spend time in Woodstock in upstate New York before coming back on Wednesday to start preparations for the next party. Maybe that’s why he was so fond of this track by War called ‘City Country City’.

Nicky Siano was still at high school when he first went to The Loft. He also has the distinction of being thrown out by Mancuso for selling drugs – selling was strictly forbidden even if using was an accepted part of the night. Nicky got his start DJing at the Round Table, a mob-run cabaret club with a gay clientele. By February 1973, when he was still only 17, Siano opened The Gallery, a club very much based on the Mancuso template – mixed crowd, balloons and streamers, free refreshments.

The Gallery started slowly but when The Loft took a break for the summer, it attracted a lot of the refugees and soon became the most happening night in Manhattan. If The Loft was the home of the tripped out dancer, The Gallery was the home of the dancing queen. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the disco sound – ‘four on the floor’ bass drum and sweeping strings – was being invented. The Love I Lost by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes on Philadelphia International Records is a prime example. The elements for disco were falling into place.

The Gallery made Nicky Siano the first star DJ. He also became mentor to Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, who would be so influential that their clubs provided the names for genres of dance music – garage at Levan’s Paradise Garage and house at Knuckles’ Warehouse. But back in 1973, Frankie was the best balloon inflater at the Gallery and his friend Larry helped out and became Siano’s lieutenant and lover.

Siano was also one of the first residents at Studio 54 when it opened in April 1977, DJing on the nights when he wasn’t at The Gallery. Studio 54, which actually was a former CBS studio on West 54th St, was the culmination of seven years of growth in the club scene. But it was also a club that promoted spectacle over music. That didn’t stop it being a massive success.

Siano’s drug habits eventually got so bad that he was sacked from Studio 54, although that might have been as much to do with perceived DJing sins such as playing Kraftwerk’s Trance Europe Express before it was popular. But his partner at the Gallery, his own brother, also gave him an ultimatum – give up the drugs or I close the club. The Gallery closed in late 1977.

This track is from The Gallery’s heyday.

All Them Witches – Lost And Found EP

It’s difficult to pick a music category that does justice to Nashville four piece All Them Witches, but ‘heavy psychedelic rock’ is probably a good starting point. When they toured the UK last year, they used the entire of Iron Man by Black Sabbath as their intro music and when I saw them at the Bierkeller in Bristol, the keyboard player Allan Van Cleave was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt – these are both useful historical reference points.

Although they’re now signed to New West Records, they have a history of self-publishing and guerilla releasing, so it was a pleasant, but not completely out of character, surprise when they announced yesterday that they have a new EP, Lost And Found, and it’s available to download for free from their Bandcamp site. It’s produced and mixed by guitarist Ben MacLeod and the striking artwork is by drummer Robby Staebler.

I’ve listened to it a few times over the past two days and I’m really impressed by the quality of the EP. Over the course of three original tracks and one cover, they push their boundaries in diverse directions. They’re going to start recording a new album in April – I’m not sure if this EP is intended to explore possible new directions or just limber up on some tracks that don’t otherwise fit, but either way it’s well worth a listen.

  1. Hares On The Mountain. This starts simply but piles drone instrument upon drone instrument upon hypnotic vocal, before disappearing in a giant wave of echoing guitar.
  2. Before The Beginning. A pretty straightforward cover of a Peter Green song from the 1969 Fleetwood Mac album Then Play On.
  3. Call Me Star. This is a mostly acoustic track which is strongly reminiscent (to me at least) of Nick Drake, especially in the fingerpicked guitar but also to an extent in the vocals.
  4. Dub Passageways. A proper King Tubby style dub treatment of a track which tries to rock out (the drums could be from a Faith No More track) but keeps being pulled back to dubspace. Allan Van Cleave also plays some mean violin.

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Love Saves The Day pt 1

[You can listen to the music from all the Love Saves The Day posts on this Youtube playlist.]

I read the rather excellent book Love Saves The Day: A History Of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence last year. Scattered throughout it are representative playlists of the music particular DJs would have played at a specific club in a specific year. While I was reading it, I bored people with snippets of information about the DJs and clubs and Youtube videos of some of the musical gems. I thought I’d collect these together and expand the text a little in order to bore a wider audience.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3 : Part 4 : Part 5

The early playlists are pretty eclectic – the core of them is soul and R&B, but the fringes are wild. Francis Grasso was DJ at the Sanctuary, a seminal ‘mixed-crowd-but-essentially-gay’ disco that opened in 1970. He would play rock and funk, James Brown and Motown – whatever got the crowd going. He was also a pioneer in mixing records together rather than just playing them back to back, and would use his headphones to listen to the incoming record to get the perfect blend – which became standard technique. You can’t dance to the orgasmic section of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love so he’d mix the whole of I’m A Man by Chicago over that part.

Babatunde Olatunji was a Nigerian percussion virtuoso who relocated to the US in 1950 in the hopes of becoming a diplomat, but ended up very successfully supporting himself through his drumming. This track was a pop hit in 1959,  as was the album it came from. Eleven years later, Francis Grasso, who’d bought the record when it came out, dug it out of the crate to make it his signature tune at the Sanctuary in 1970.

The club Haven was “a cliquish after hours spot that attracted a mixed crowd of street people, gay men, and high society speed freaks”. It got going at midnight and went through to 7AM. It was eventually closed on the orders of the New York State Supreme Court. Francis Grasso had moved to Haven from the Sanctuary and two of his admirers, Michael Cappello and Steve D’Acquisto, learned his tricks there and waited for their chance. They became three of the key DJs on the early 70s New York club scene. The music stuck closer to soul and R&B, but always looking for the raw or percussive track that would energise the dancefloor.

Tamburlaine was a Chinese restaurant that metamorphosed into a nightclub at 10pm. By 1971, that nightclub was the gayest discotheque around and also attracted the in crowd – drag queens, fashionistas and celebrities like Jackie Onassis and Keith Moon. Grasso played there, and so did Steve D’Acquisto who was spinning this early Eddy Grant track. But then so was pretty much every other DJ in New York.

Part 2 will be here.

Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds

Rare Birds cover art

Jonathan Wilson is a (non-native) Californian who makes extraordinary music – not just for himself, he also has some very cool producer credits including critically acclaimed albums with Father John Misty and Karen Elson released in 2017 alone. His own music manages to cherry pick sounds and grooves from the last fifty years of popular music without ever feeling derivative or anything other than contemporary.

His last album Fanfare felt rooted in the acoustic guitar and harmony vocals sound of the 1970s Laurel Canyon sound – to the extent that Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and David Crosby contributed harmony vocals. His new album, Rare Birds, has got much more of a 1980s Peter Gabriel/Talk Talk feel, synthesizers and all. There’s still lush orchestration and great guitar playing of course, and there are plenty of outliers like the delicate Loving You or the early Pink Floyd sound of Miriam Montague. The latter is clearly influenced by the fact that his main gig at the moment is guitarist, vocalist and ‘resident hippie’ on Roger Waters’ Us + Them world tour. He also contributed guitar, keyboards and studio skills to Waters’ recent album is this the life we really want?.

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Alan Parker, guitarist and composer

[You can listen to all the tracks in one go on this Youtube playlist]

I heard a song on the radio this morning, and was so impressed by the guitar solo that starts just before the four minute mark (and is basically the track from then on) that I wanted to know who had played it. It’s linked below, I’ll wait while you listen to it.

That’s John Walker on the video back in 1975 pretending to fingerpick the solo on a rather beautiful unplugged Fender Stratocaster. He was promoting the Walker Brothers comeback album, which did nowhere near as well as the No Regrets single which was taken from it.

The guitarist actually playing the solo is Alan Parker, an English musician who has written or played a huge amount of music I’m sure you’re familiar with, although his face is unfamiliar and he won’t appear on any of these videos barring one grainy still.

After training at the Royal Academy of Music under Julian Bream in the mid Sixties, Parker became an in demand session guitarist on the London circuit. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame was musical director for Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man album sessions and brought Parker in to play electric rhythm and lead guitar on the title track, Hurdy Gurdy Man. It’s often been said that the guitar is played by Jimmy Page – he did play acoustic guitar on some of the other tracks at the sessions but not this one.

Around the same time as the Donovan sessions, Parker met Jimi Hendrix when they were both working at Olympic Studios in Barnes, west London. They hit it off and, a couple of years later, Jimi gifted him his 1951 Epiphone FT-79 acoustic guitar. This had been bought for $25 in 1967 with money earned from the Monterey Festival appearance and had been Jimi’s main home guitar while in London, used for practice and composition.

Parker played the guitar on sessions and at some point sold it along with the hard case that he’d found for it (to this day, still stencilled with “A. Parker”). That original sale may have been The Jimi Hendrix Auction at Bonhams in 2001 – it was certainly sold there. It’s been auctioned again a couple of times since then, still with the A Parker case, most recently in 2016 when it sold for £209,000.

Meanwhile, a group of session musicians got together in 1969, at his instigation according to Big Jim Sullivan, with a view to forming a band. Big Jim soon went off to play with Tom Jones for a few years leaving Alan Parker as the sole guitarist – the remaining musicians became Blue Mink. The bass player was Herbie Flowers, later a David Bowie stalwart and member of Sky, but Blue Mink’s pop success was driven by the vocal talents of Madeline Bell and Roger Cook. Cook was also an accomplished songwriter, having writing credits on I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing and Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart amongst many others. Anyway, here’s a Blue Mink instrumental from their first album which shows off Alan Parker’s chops.

All of Blue Mink carried on with their session work and other bands. They formed the nucleus of the musicians on Elton John’s first album in 1970. Parker and Flowers formed a heavy blues band called Rumpelstiltskin, whose two albums are well worth checking out.

For strange reasons (it was the early 70s) Rumpelstiltskin adopted pseudonyms, so Alan Parker became Andrew Balmain. That’s how Andrew Balmain came to be credited as guitarist on Ballade de Melody Nelson from Serge Gainsbourg’s landmark 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson, the rhythm tracks for which were recorded in London in 1970 with Rumplestiltskin providing the core of the band.

The Herbie Flowers connection was probably responsible for Parker being brought in to play the electric guitar on Rebel Rebel, David Bowie’s farewell to glam rock. Bowie wrote the riff on an acoustic but Parker dirtied it up and added the three notes at the end of each riff (Ab, D, E) that allow it to loop so hypnotically for almost all the song. Parker was also possibly being used as a gentle two finger salute in the direction of the recently departed Mick Ronson, showing that Ronson was by no means the only guitarist with a Les Paul and an overdriven amp. Alan Parker also played the Shaft-style guitar on 1984 which appeared together with Rebel Rebel on Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs.

Parker continued to play on many well-known and plenty of obscure tracks – such is the life of a session guitarist. But he was also establishing himself as a composer and performer of library music. The distinguishing feature of library music is that the composer assigns all copyright to the publisher, so the publisher can easily license it to film and TV companies for use as soundtrack and incidental music. Library music was also released as albums by labels such as KPM, DeWolfe and Themes. It’s very difficult to trace what use the tracks were put to, However this one is known to have been used on Sesame Street back in the day.

Session contacts led to library music contacts and those in turn led to theme music and soundtrack contacts. By 1977, Parker was scoring the high profile television dramatisation of the “Philby, Burgess and Maclean” spy scandal.

He pretty much seems to have not looked back since.

Bedsit Disco Queen and Jeff Buckley at Glastonbury

Bedsit-Disco-QueenI’ve just finished reading Bedsit Disco Queen, the music memoir by Everything But The Girls’ Tracey Thorn. I’m not really an Everything But The Girl fan but I have a fondness for random bits of their catalogue and even knew Rob Peters, the drummer on their 1986 album Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. But as soon as I saw the book in the library, I knew it was going to be a fascinating read for anybody who lived through the era. The paperback is released on January 16 and I heartily recommend it.

There’s one story from the book I’d like to share, which concerns Jeff Buckley. Thorn was a fan of Buckley and in April 1995, EBTG played a low key gig at Sin-é, the New York café where he had recorded his 1993 mini-album. Ben Watt (other half of EBTG) randomly met Jeff while they were having their hair cut at an East Village salon, they discovered they were both playing the Glastonbury Festival and Jeff suggested they do a song together. This is all forgotten until an hour before Everything But The Girls’ midday Glastonbury set.

And now, without warning or preamble, at eleven o’clock in the morning here is Jeff Buckley standing in front of me in my workman’s hut of a dressing room, and he has come to remind me that we have agreed to do a song together. We are due onstage in about half an hour.

‘Bloody hell, isn’t it a bit late now?’ I ask. He doesn’t think so. With a kind of gauche enthusiasm that makes him seem like a spectacularly gorgeous younger brother, he produces a guitar and begins to throw ideas at us.

They decide to cover The Smiths’ I Know It’s Over and the peformance is chaotic but enjoyable. Fast forward to late afternoon when Jeff Buckley is playing the main stage and Tracey and Ben are watching from the wings.

At the end of one song he looks over to us, catches Ben’s eye and starts beckoning him onstage with furious jerks of his head. It’s the scene at the end of Spinal Tap when the band reunite onstage! Ben picks up a guitar, gamely ambles on and plugs in.

‘OK,’ yells Jeff. ‘ we’re gonna do “Kick Out The Jams”. One-two-three-FAWH!’

Now Ben may well be the only guitarist in rock music who had never heard MC5’s punk anthem, let alone played it. Still, he’s nothing if not a quick learner, and after about eight bars he has sussed it and is off and running.

And that’s why, at the end of the song, Jeff Buckley says ‘Uh, thanks Ben.’

St Cuthbert’s Way: Part 4 – Yetholm to Lindisfarne

This is part 4 of useful information gleaned from our extended 110 mile St Cuthbert’s Way walk from Peebles to Lindisfarne in September 2012. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

The third section of the St Cuthbert’s is across the northern Cheviots from Yetholm to Wooler – up then down, up then down. There are no facilities on the route but it’s all very beautiful. Wooler is a sizeable town with plenty of pubs, cafes and shops. There also a Cooperative store on the main street open till 11pm most days. The Tourist Information Centre is the place to get your next stamp, but it closes at 4.30 so don’t be late. There are quite a few campsites in and around Wooler but we ended up staying in one on the Chatton Road that is so small I can only identify it by its Landranger coordinates – NU003286. But on a wet night, we were very happy to get the use of a static caravan with heating, shower, kitchen and a proper bed for £15.

The final section takes you through lovely Northumberland countryside with occasional tantalising views of Lindisfarne, but with no facilities until you get close to the A1 near the coast. We crossed to Lindisfarne over the sands on the Pilgrims Way. Despite the unavoidable stinky mudflat in the middle, this was a highlight of the journey. Just make sure you understand the tide times table and try to start your crossing as soon the table says it is safe to.

Even if you only have time to stay until the tide comes back in, Lindisfarne is a very deserving pilgrimage destination. You can get your final proof at the post office, and the 477 bus runs back to the mainland just before safe crossing ends – only on Wednesdays and Saturdays from September to May. But if you can stay overnight when the island is much quieter, the experience is even better.

We stayed at the Lindisfarne Hotel which has nice rooms for a very reasonable (for Lindisfarne) price. The proprietor Sean is a mine of information and something of a character (in a very helpful way). As the walk was to mark a birthday with a zero at the end, we celebrated with dinner at the Beangoose Resturant (now closed) which serves lovely food even if the local lobster isn’t available. Of the many, mostly tourist oriented, shops we found the Lindisfarne Scriptorium to be interesting and genuine.

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